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Mr. Rowing
Paul O'Neil
June 06, 1955
Navy's Rusty Callow doesn't regret the million he might have made in the logging business and doesn't even mind ending the longest winning streak in crew history—if he can get another started
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June 06, 1955

Mr. Rowing

Navy's Rusty Callow doesn't regret the million he might have made in the logging business and doesn't even mind ending the longest winning streak in crew history—if he can get another started

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College sport has produced no more familiar sight than the man and the costume depicted on the opposite page—Navy's canny old Rowing Coach Russell S. (Rusty) Callow and his famous floppy hat, shapeless jacket and electric megaphone. But his street clothes—blue serge suit, white shirt slightly too large at the collar, bright tie and tan oxfords with a shoe-store glare—are more revealing. When encased in them he looks just like an old-time logging boss from Washington State's Douglas fir country dressed up for a trip to town. He is. At 64 he could accurately be described as Mr. Rowing of the U.S., but he has felt no need to change his attitude toward clothes or toward sport in the 34 years since he set out to teach strong young men the art of propelling a cedar shell through the water.

His stature as a coach can be measured by the fact that the biggest rowing news of 1955 concerned a defeat rather than a victory—Navy's loss to Penn in the Adams Cup regatta last month after winning 31 straight races including the finals of the 1952 Olympic Games. His stature as a sportsman can be measured by his reaction: he was displeased and belligerently triumphant all at once. "I'm glad we can still lose in rowing," he said. "Nobody thinks of the game anymore, just win, win, win. Look at football. Well, we're still amateurs, maybe the last of them. Why shouldn't we lose? There's never been a time in 30 years that I've had to be afraid of losing.

"Of course," he added with a glittering eye. "I like to win like anyone else."

Callow is a man who believes in the efficacy of old-fashioned long underwear. On most afternoons he is apt to spend an hour in that basic stage of costuming, smoking cigarets, thinking aloud and spitting out the window of his little office in the Academy's Hubbard Boat House. Thus arrayed after Navy lost a second time in the Eastern Sprint Championships, he decided to junk a basic maxim of rowing in an effort to produce a better boat from his graduation-thinned cadre of oarsmen.

"A heavy man is supposed to be in the middle of the boat," he said. "And a man who weighs over 200 pounds isn't supposed to be able to pull his own weight. Well, we've got a No. 6 man named Leonard Anton—he's a coal miner's son from Pennsylvania—who weighs 210 and he pulls his weight. You can tell about an oarsman's courage by watching the water back of his oar when he's tired. This feller's got a heart like a lion. I'm going to try him at stroke." Last week, with Anton at stroke and former Stroke Maury Browne in Anton's old seat, Navy won the Western Sprint Championships (with Stanford a surprising second and Washington third) at Newport Beach, Calif.

It seemed only fitting that Navy's old-man-of-the-river—who will probably retire at the end of this year—should go on tasting victory. His career began with it. Callow worked his way through the University of Washington as a summertime logger—and by teaming up with another college woodsman to win Fourth of July timber-felling contests. He rowed under the legendary Hiram Conibear in 1913, 1914 and 1915, but after graduation he went back to the woods as a logger operator in partnership with a brother and did not dream of any other life. When Washington asked him to coach its crew in 1923 (after Coach Ed Leader departed for Yale) he agreed mostly from a sense of duty. But his oarsmen won the Poughkeepsie Regatta in his first year and again in 1924 and 1926.

As the nation's leading coach, Callow was hired by Pennsylvania—and spent 23 long years without winning at Poughkeepsie. "We didn't have the water," he grumbled. "The Schuylkill River silted up something awful—it was too thick to drink and too thin to plow and sometimes we only had two feet of it to row in. Of course they dredged it once I left. A feller once asked me why I didn't stay at Washington and be the Knute Rockne of rowing. I often asked myself the same thing." He grinned. "The answer was always the same—the difference between $3,000 and $10,000 a year."

He became a sort of Rockne of rowing nevertheless. After his blazing success at Washington the school became the primary source of U.S. rowing coaches—today virtually all the best-known of them are men who rowed for him or for his successor (and one-time stroke) Al Ulbrickson. And at Navy he put together the longest string of victories in history.

Would he do it all over again? "Yes, sir," he says. "Yes, sir. You know, one of my brothers made a million dollars logging. But rowing—it's more than just pulling an oar. It is like golf too—the backswing, the application of power at the right split second. But in rowing, eight men have to do it together when they're tired. When you have a crew like our Olympic crew—or a crew that tries like our crew this year—it's a great thing."

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